March 1, 2012

12 | 0

Connected Learning

A few years ago, I conducted a study with a large team of researchers on how young people were learning through electronic games, social media, and digital media production. We saw many reasons to be hopeful as to how the online world could support learning that is social, participatory, and driven by the personal needs and interests of the learner. We were inspired by young people who were taking to the online world to learn complex technical skills, create and share sophisticated media works, engage in social causes, and pursue specialized knowledge. At same time, we found reasons for concern. While highly activated and motivated youth were mining the learning riches of the Internet, these young people were a decided minority, and tended to be those who were already technologically and educationally privileged. Were we in fact seeing a new kind of equity gap, an emerging digital learning elite? Why weren’t the majority of young people taking advantage of the opportunities that new media offered for learning?

This concern has led me on a journey over the past three years, in trying to understand not only how new media can support highly engaged, geeked out, and self-directed forms of learning, but also how it can make this kind of learning available to all young people. Together with a committed group of colleagues and partners that are part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, I’ve been engaged in an effort to address this challenge, seeking to enlist a diverse constituency of educators, parents, technology makers, and young people in a new vision of learning in the digital age.

Today we are proud to announce a new research network, community site, and a set of learning and design principles that seeks to promote dialog and experimentation around a model we are calling “connected learning.” In a nutshell, connected learning is learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational and economic opportunity. Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.

The Essence of Connected Learning from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.

This path towards connected learning is both personal and professional for me. I grew up with a connected learner, my brother, who tended to have a troubled relationship to formal education but was always geeking out on a hobby with the support of caring adult mentors. Although he never graduated from college, he has gone on to be a successful Internet entrepreneur and the director of the MIT Media Lab. I’ve seen connected learning when my son’s teacher invites him to do a school assignment about his favorite electronic game that he plays with his closest friends and expert mentors, or when my daughter is able to direct her passion for sewing into making costumes for her friends in a school dance performance. And I’ve experienced it when I’ve been able to connect the social causes I care about to my career ambitions. These kinds of experiences shouldn’t be the province of the 1% of connected learners or learning moments, any more than economic wealth should be concentrated in the hands of the few.

We don't need to think of education as pushing scarce and static knowledge from center to periphery and of educational opportunity as being able to do better on standardized tests. We have the opportunity to tap into a much more dynamic, distributed, participatory, networked knowledge universe to capture the attention of diverse learners.

We believe we can harness the power of social media, online knowledge, and digital production tools to make this kind of learning accessible and ubiquitous. The power of digital networks is in the ability to connect learners and teachers across space and institutional boundaries, to build linkages between school, home and community, and to make information and learning resources highly accessible and personalized. Our challenge is in guiding more young people to take advantage of these opportunities. We need an expansive and diverse network of people and institutions to develop, improve, refine, and take up a vision of 21st Century learning, and our hope is to support this process of network building through our connected learning approach and principles.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at March 1, 2012 2:50 PM



Your project looks really interesting. I've been talking with communities of like-minded educators for some years. You would probably be interested in looking at some of the work they've done in this area. Try:

Stephen Downes and George Siemens on Connectivism and Connected Knowledge and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs);
Gardner Cambpell on Personal Digital Infrastructures;
Jim Groom's work with DS106 helping create open and engaging learning *experiences* that have been really transformational for participants,
David Wiley on open courses at the high school level;
Philipp Schmidt, Stian Haklev and others have started the peer 2 peer university (, which offers ourses for the self-motivated connected learner;
Many of these people have talked about Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), which you should look at;
Open Educational Resources is often what comes out of their projects and the term under which many resources for connected learners are collected;
A lot of these folks' work comes under the heading of "Open Education" and comes together each year at the Open Education Conference (The next one's in October in Vancouver BC). Come on up and see us there!

The experience of connected learning is really unique and rewarding compared to traditional structured education that we received in schools when we were young. I first experienced it in 2008 through a course on open education offered by Philipp Schmidt with Creative Commons and the Mozilla Foundation. I hope your project helps spread these techniques and opportunities, especially into the pre-high school age sets. I'll keep watching what's going on here.

2- Mimi Ito

Thanks for your comment Nate and pointers. We'll be looking to build exactly this kind of community of folks at In fact, Philipp is in the starting lineup of folks for our new webinar series there.

Great, I'm glad to hear you've talked with Philipp already. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with this, and I'll be spreading the word where relevant.

Nice summary and congrats on a hugely successful DML conference.

Nate's comment mentions these emerging connectivist approaches. These approaches have appealed to me, so I am wondering how you envision the relationship between connectivsm and connected learning. I assume others are wondering as well.

It seems to me that connectivism is one one model of instruction that seems well suited to the broader vision of connected learning.

5- Emily Long

In class we have been learning about technology based learning within students in the classroom and outside the classroom as well. I think that students learn a lot through technology, especially social networking sites. They communicate with one another online, and learn more through their social experiences rather than structured classroom learning .

6- Kedric

This is really interesting! I think it's cool to connect teachers and learners on a more informal basis. I think it would make for better learning!

7- Randy S.

Amazing how you was able to connect piece of learning to the fact that this world is becoming more digital. I believe that network is so important, and the tools that we can use to improve our network make things more convenient. However, I do not agree on using social media as a complete method on communicating with others. I think that is why I am not taking advantage of new media. I do not feel completely sure to trust the media, the online network you might say. It really depends on what situation I'm in, but I like to stay away from the media and enjoy nature.

8- Joe Okeiga

Mimi Ito, I believe that using media as a learning tool for students is a great idea! Personally, I am a college student and I am always on my laptop, I'd love it if I was able to do more assignments on the Internet instead of reading books and taking notes. I hope someone takes your proposed idea seriously so that we may see a change in the school system.

9- Kristen

Hey! I really like your ideas on connected learning. I think that technology is a great skill set to incorporate into learning. Being a college student, the greatest thing on my mind is picking a career path that will have opportunities, and ensuring that I will be fully equipped for that career. In today's time, it's common for individuals who have a lot of experience with technology to have greater job opportunities than those who don't. People would rather hire someone who has learned those vital skill sets than take the time and money to teach them.

I find this article very interesting, but I also found myself rereading it because in the first paragraph I feel as if you almost digress in talking about a divide in media learning between some sort of status gap? Maybe it wasn't a digression but in your paragraphs following I never saw any follow up on the topic. I may have just missed it but just for clarity what sort of things are being thought of as a way to close this gap?

11- Shahad Sinada

Congrats on your accomplished DML conference! As a college student I definitely agree with connecting especially through the internet. As technology advances we should use it to our advantages.

Everything that gives a educators a way to improve their skills to teach better their students it's a good new. :)

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